Great Barrier Reef FAQ's

Great Barrier Reef Tours

Q: I’m travelling with young children; are there any half day or full day Great Barrier Reef tours suitable for us from Cairns?

A: Yes! There are several tours that operate half day and full day reef tours that are great for families with babies or young children it all just depends on their ages and capabilities and it is always best to call us so we may get more information so we can give you the correct advice .

You can choose between a half day or full day tour to Green Island which is one of the most popular islands and just a 45 minute boat ride from Cairns City.

Green Island provides a huge range of both water and land activities for the whole family both young and old including Scuba Doo, Marineland Melanesia.

We can offer varying ferry times to Green Island for both the half day and full day Great Barrier Reef tours and you can even stay overnight at the Green Island Eco Resort  in a bit of luxury and privacy for the family.

Another lovely island for a young family is the Frankland Islands located just south of Cairns.

To get to this island you experience a serene river cruise first and then a short trip across the ocean to the island.

This is a perfect natural island where you enjoy lunch under the canopy of the trees and lounge around in azure blue waters with marine life all around you including turtles.

The Frankland Islands reef trip is a full day tour from Cairns and you can be picked up from your accommodation from Cairns to Palm Cove.  

You can discover further Family Friendly Day Trips to suit the ages of your kids.

Q: We have a young family staying in Port Douglas and wish to go to the reef what would you recommend?  

A: It all depends on the actual ages of your family as various day tours are designed to suit the various types of travellers.

If you give us a call we could probably assist you better but let’s say your children are quite young and very restless, maybe a boat ride to an island would be a good option as they could get off the boat and put their feet on the sand and run in and out of the water.

In this case we would recommend Low Isles as it is a relativley short boat journey to a beautiful destination and there are lot's of turtles to be seen here also.

Please note not all Great Barrier Reef tours are suitable for young children.

There are larger boats that cruise to the outer Barrier Reef on very fast vessels that have lot’s of space for children to move about the boat in comfort and that provides a win win situation for the adults as well as the children.

The adults get to experience the best of the reef and the children get to enjoy all the facilities that an outer Great Barrier reef pontoon offers. 

This is the multi award winning Great Barrier Reef tour platform we recommend from Port Douglas the Quicksilver Pontoon  it is an interactive pontoon where you can take a scenic helicopter flight, go scuba diving, ride around the reef in a semi-submersible submarine, try helmet diving, go on a snorkel tour with a marine biologist, watch all the underwater activity from the underwater observatory.

The Great Barrier Reef pontoon tours from both Cairns and Port Douglas are the perfect option for non-swimmers.       

A full day out on the Great Barrier Reef is highly recommended for first timers as you need to get out to the Outer Barrier Reef to see the reef in all it’s full glory.

Coral and fish like the deeper clean waters that are not affected by rivers and land run off’s.

The coral and marine life are far more spectacular on the outer edges of the Cairns Great Barrier Reef and when you are out there you can take a helicopter ride try scuba diving, Seawalker, ride around in the semi-submersible submarine and lot’s more.

Children have so much to see and do they will be exhausted when you get home.

The Great Adventures pontoon is the perfect choice for a full day reef trip for the family from Cairns and you can also combine an outer Great Barrier Reef tour with a Green Island tour also that is simply the best value tour and 2 for 1 experience in Cairns.

Ask The Tour Specialists for more information on the best selection of family-friendly tours to suit you or call 07 4059 5959 

Q: I have heard there are Jellyfish, Irukanji  and Marine Stingers on the Great Barrier Reef, when is it safe to go swimming?

A: It is safe to swim all year round in Cairns, Port Douglas, Townsville and the Great Barrier Reef but it is highly recommended that you wear a lycra suit when entering the water in the warmer months of November-April.

We also recommend you put on sun screen when you go to the beach and mosquito repellent and long socks when you go into the Daintree Rainforest and other nature walks and outback bushland tours in Australia.

It’s all about being prepared for “Mother Natures” elements at varying times of the year.

These lovely full body lycra suits are provided on every Great Barrier Reef tour that visits the islands and local reefs.

The lycra suits are to protect both physically and mentally and to give you the confidence of protection so you can really enjoy yourself in the reef environment.

Some Great Barrier Reef boat tour operators charge around $7.00 to hire the suit so they can cover their cleaning and maintenance costs.

For more in depth factual information about “Irukanji, Marine Stingers and Jellyfish” read this interview with Marine Stinger expert Dr Lisa-Ann Gershwin.

Tropical North Queensland

Some of the more popular Cairns beaches are patrolled by Queensland Surf Lifesavers at certain times of the year and they drag inside the “Swimming Enclosures” or nets for jelly fish every few hours a day to ensure the safety of swimmers and each of these beaches have that to reduce the chance of any box jellyfish stings.

The patrolled beaches are Holloways Beach, Yorkeys Knob, Trinity Beach, Palm Cove and Port Douglas.

The Surf Life Savers at these beaches do regular sweeps inside the enclosures thru-out the day with a handheld net.

Townsville and Whitsundays also have swimming nets in various locations during the hot summer seasons. 

It is recommended that you always swim between the Red & Yellow Flags in the patrolled area of any Australian beach all year round.

If you think you have had a jelly fish or a marine sting, vinegar is readily available on the foreshore at most popular beaches and when applied liberally, it assists in neutralising the sting.

We recommend you seek urgent medical attention at all times and call 000 for an ambulance just in case and alert the Surf Lifesavers.

Please note oceans the world over have various types of jelly fish and marine stingers and not all of them are actually dangerous or even sting you. This is not an isolated situation the Great Barrier Reef or in Australia as a matter of fact. Bali, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and many other countries have the very same jellyfish issue but visitors are not made aware of the situation like they are here in Australia. We see it as a duty of care to our visitors.  

Bluebottles are the most common and they do give a nasty sting but certainly not life threatening.

Also pleases note overseas holiday destinations like Bali, Thailand, Fiji and Malaysia have no jellyfish or Marine Stinger safety regulations to date so it is up to the tourists to be aware and prepare for swimming in the ocean between November and May just like they need to be prepared on the Great Barrier Reef.

Also please note they do not have the fortunate situation of medicines and emergency procedures in place like Australia does.

Oh and another thing to note when swimming anywhere else in Australia be aware of sharks and again Australia is not the only place in the world to have sharks surrounding its country.  

Swimming anywhere else in the world is the same as swimming on the Great Barrier Reef, just dress for the elements.

Q: How much time should I reserve to see the Great Barrier Reef?

A: In a perfect world we would suggest an overnight liveaboard sailing holiday or sleep on the reef to really experience the Great Barrier Reef and see it at its world class best.  It is recommended you reserve at least one full day if not two full day’s to maximise your Great Barrier Reef experience, because after all you flew all this way to see one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World so you need to experience and see as much of it as possible.  Each reef trip is unique and offers a different experience.

We recommend you also take a scenic helicopter flight over the top of the reef at 500 feet to take some of your own amazing photographs just like you see in the brochures and then land on the pontoon sitting out on the reef and go snorkelling and explore the reef from underneath the water.  There is a range of heli and reef trips which combine both in the one day!

Another fabulous option is to sleep on the reef overnight (Whitsundays) and experience a sunset and sunrise over the Great Barrier Reef or choose to stay a few nights on an Island Resort.

You could even do a night dive if you were up for some fun on an extended liveaboard snorkel or dive trip!  

All Outer Reef cruises are full day trips departing Port Douglas, Cairns, Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island in the morning starting around 8am to 10am and returning around 4-5:30pm.

Q: Average Sea Temperature: What is the best time of year to visit the Great Barrier Reef?

May – September: 22-26 Degrees (Celsius) These months seem to be the most popular times for tourists to visit Cairns from the southern states of Australia mainly because they are in the midst of winter and Cairns is its normal tropical balmy self just a little cooler than normal. 

These are the months the giant Humpback Whale and the Dwarf Minke Whales also make their way to the Great Barrier Reef for calving and they put on spectacular displays for the reef boats.

It can sometimes get windy at this time of year on the ocean so you really need to get out to the reef on a good day to see it in all its majesty.

October – April: 26-28 Degrees (or 75 to 85 Farenheit) Locals absolutely love this time of year as the ocean temperatures rise and the fishing is at its prime and the visibility is good for scuba diving and snorkelling and there is not much wind around at all making for those picture perfect days on the ocean.

Q: What time of year do the Giant Humpback and Dwarf Minke Whales Visit Cairns?

A: Dwarf Minke Whales and Giant Humpback Whales start to appear in Tropical North Queensland waters sometimes as early as May (dependant on the water temperatures) through to late September.

Through these months Cairns has several liveaboard dive trips dedicated to swimming with Minke whales and or whale watching with the Dwarf Minke whales.

There are also private charter whale watching tours offering cruises from Cairns and they can combine it with a day of snorkelling and island exploration.

If you are visiting the Great Barrier Reef during these months, there is a strong possibility you might spot these playful creatures, however whale sightings cannot be guaranteed of course.

Some Port Douglas reef operators also have a rare “Swim with Dwarf Minke Whale permit” which allows passengers to snorkel holding onto a safety line attached to the boat whilst the Minke Whales swim all around you.

A life changing amazing experience to say the least! 

Read all about swimming with whales here and book your whale trip

Q: Are there Sharks on the Great Barrier Reef?

A: Just like any other ocean around the world, there are sharks that inhabit the waters of The Great Barrier Reef.

However, they are predominantly small, shy reef sharks that are relatively harmless to humans.

If you are lucky enough to encounter a shark during your snorkelling or Scuba diving tour, enjoy it!

These creatures are beautiful and you will most likely adopt a new found love for them!

Oh and if you come across a big shark just don’t try and swim up to it for a pat as it probably will not like it and may just turn around and bite you.

Always be cautious of sharks just like you should be with a dog you do not know.

Book a dive trip where you can swim with sharks on the Great Barrier Reef. 

Q: What is the EMC fee all about?

A: Everyone that enters the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park by boat must pay an Environmental Management Charge (EMC) or “Reef Tax” as it is often called.

The funds that are collected by the reef tour operators go the Australian Government who use it to manage and conserve the waters of the Great Barrier Reef.

The fee is usually around $6-$10 per person

Q: Can I bring home any shells or coral as a souvenir from the Great Barrier Reef?

A: The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s biggest National Marine Park which means the removal of any species including dead shells and coral from within and outside the Green Zones are strictly prohibited and hefty penalties apply if not a jail term for repeat offenders.

The same rules apply when fishing on the Great Barrier Reef.

Authorities will not take ignorance of the rules into consideration if you are caught fishing on the protected regions in the green zones of the reef.

Just think if everyone took home a piece of coral or shells from the reef reef there would not be much left after a few years!

You can buy coral from the tourist shops that has been harvested legally and then painted up to look pretty in all sorts of colours.

Q: Are there ways to see the Great Barrier Reef if I can’t swim or am a non-swimmer?

A: Absolutely!

And we recommend Great Barrier Reef pontoon tours for non-swimmers

Many reef tour operators have glass bottom boats, semi-submersible submarines and underwater observatories on the outer Great Barrier Reef platforms as part of their full day tours which allow you to view the underwater world without even getting your feet wet!

If you cannot swim, but are keen to have a go at snorkelling, practically all reef operators carry floatation devices such as life vests, noodles and life rings that will keep you buoyant and make snorkelling a breeze!  Just ensure to talk to the crew so they are aware and can assist you.

There will also be qualified guides in the water to help you.

Or, why not take a scenic flight and get a bird’s eye view?!

The Great Barrier Reef stretches over 2300kms and is simply breath taking from above!

Call a tour specialist to discuss what’s best for you PH: (07) 4059 5959 or 1300 761 612

Q: What happens if it rains or the weather is bad, will my Great Barrier Reef Tour be cancelled?

A: Although our weather usually provides optimal conditions all year round, from time to time strong winds will blow and cause a bigger swell and a less comfortable boat ride out to the reef.

Rest assured the commercial reef boats are big, stable and fast!

If the conditions are forecast too dangerous, you will be given the option to change your travel date, or given a full refund.

If it’s raining on the Mainland, it does not necessarily indicate that it will be raining out on the reef.

And in the tropics it only rains in certain spots or patches. For example it may be raining on one side of the road and not the other which is quite different to what most people are used to in the southern states of Australia.

The reef lies over 25km – 100km offshore and the tropical clouds will generally hover over the rainforest clad mountains that fringe Tropical North Queensland’s Coastline.

If however, it does happen to rain during your trip, don’t be disappointed!

The rain has minimal impact on viewing the reef and aquatic life.

The fish really don’t care if it’s raining on the surface and you are going to get wet anyway !

Do not let the worry of the weather stop you from pre-booking your reef tour as you can always change it to another day at least 24 hours before departure when you have done a weather check with the team at The Tour Specialists

Q: I want to see the Great Barrier Reef, but get sea sick easily, what should I do?

A: To avoid motion sickness you may want to take one of the many medicated or natural preventatives that are available over the counter at pharmacies and chemists.

Remember these are preventatives, not cures! So you need to take them before the boat leaves.

Always read the product label for recommended dosage.

If these types’ of medications have failed to work for you previously, or you suffer from severe motion sickness, see your GP for a stronger alternative.

The only real known cure for sea sickness is solid land!

If boats are seriously not for you and you really want to see the Great Barrier Reef then there are other options like Helicopter flights that allow you to access various reef locations including Coral Sand Cays, Great Barrier Reef Islands and stable pontoons or platforms.

Q: Can I go Scuba Diving if I am not certified?

A: Yes! If you have never tried scuba diving before, or, have but do not hold a certification, you can take part in a Discover Scuba Diving or introductory dive during your Reef tour!

It’s safe, easy and fun!  We recommend pre-booking your intro scuba dive for your reef trip.  If you are interested in becoming certified you could also choose a learn to dive course.

There are some medical conditions that may restrict you from scuba diving, ask a tour specialist for more information.

Q: Where on the Great Barrier Reef can I expect to see turtles?

A: In the water!

Although turtles are spotted on a daily basis at a variety of reef sights, there is no place in particular to guarantee a sighting.

Like any wild animal, Sea Turtles won’t stay in one place for an extended period of time.

That said, they are more likely to congregate around Reef Islands and Cays and in Tropical North Queensland the two islands that they seem to gather at in great numbers is Low Isles north of Port Douglas and the Frankland Islands south of Cairns.

No matter if you are in the Whitsundays, Townsville, Magnetic Island, Lady ElliotLady Musgrave Islands and Great Keppel Island you will definitely need to be on the look out for sea turtles. 

For the best chance to see turtles you need to not be splashing around with your flippers when snorkelling. Keep your hands behind your back and just slowly move your legs to get propulsion across the waters surface. Look down into the coral as turtles love to tuck themselves in crevices for sleep time and they camouflage very well.

Q: I’m a smoker, is smoking allowed on all the Reef tours?

A: All boats have a no-smoking policy on their vessels. If you are including an island stop in your Great Barrier Reef tour experience, you will have a chance to have a cigarette on the island as long as you dispose of your butts in appropriate waste facility or bin.

Choosing a Great Barrier Reef tour doesn’t have to be difficult.  Check out further information on Tips for Choosing the best Great Barrier Reef tour.  We can help you to choose the right tour and offer our friendly locals knowledge and experience  - Call 1300 761 612 or 07 4059 5959

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